I thought I’d have a Starbucks, and then I saw this

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Starbucks cupThere is no doubt that marketing is a powerful tool. Right?  For example, if you have children, at what age did they recognize the McDonald’s sign?  (mine were still in diapers!

And then there’s the ambiance and aroma of a coffee shop.  The sounds that delight many: coffee beans in the grinder, an espresso machine slathering up a foamy treat, and the muted sounds of conversation among friends (with an occasional outburst of laughter from the corner table).  In this scenario, what national brand would come to most people’s minds?  For many, it is Starbucks.

There were many benefits to my overall health when I changed my diet (I removed processed products, gluten, grain, and soy; read how drastically my life changed), but one of the interesting “side effects” was that I became utterly and totally immune to the type of marketing that I shared above.  

Why is that?  I didn’t consciously choose that way;  it happened out of the sheer need to get away from the ingredients that the mass brands use.  I no longer eat out.  I don’t buy anything packaged from the grocery store.  Thankfully, back then I wasn’t someone who was “addicted” as a soda or coffee drinker, so that part wasn’t hard for me.  However, let me just tell you… breaking myself off of McDonald’s French Fries took a long, long time…and then some.  While now I cringe thinking about my secret drive-through rendezvous, it wasn’t that long ago that the lure of the golden arches’ fries was enough to endure days of symptoms that were vague enough to excuse (and yes, McDonald’s French Fries DO contain gluten…see this blog post).

Being away from the brands, the marketing, and the hype has given me a clearer perspective of just how much of an addicted society we are.  I’m not blaming anyone or pointing fingers.  It’s just a fact.

My companyMore than once, I’ve even been tempted to approach some of these big brands (NOT the golden arches!) with my little business and say “Hey, I’ve got something here.  I know that the world is changing, and you could impact lots and lots of people for the good with these new food products and all that I’ve learned.  I am working really hard to make it happen, and actually, it’s working…wanna invest and make this bigger?”  Because really, that’s completely the truth.  I’m doing my best to be the change I want to see.  We need it.  We all need it.  But, at times I’m overwhelmed with just how limited I feel as a small business…I want to reach more people with my story, my message, with hope, with a cookie or a pizza or a meal or even a cup of fries to say, “Hey, you CAN do this, you can be healthy and you really CAN succeed!”

(And by the way, a harsh “truth” I’ve learned is just what a poor impact these big brands have had on our food supply.  Genetic modification of our foods, vague labeling or blatant non-disclosure of ingredients used, and poor treatment of our land and our animals have all contributed to a broken food system that has, in turn, caused a breakdown in our health and our bodies.  So even if they own all the dollars in the world, and I receive none, I would continue what I’m doing.)

Occasionally I hear of one of these big brands doing something that excites one of my clients, and they bring it to my attention.

Now, I’m an honest person, so I’m going to tell you straight up that I don’t drink coffee.  I love the smell of it, but not the taste.  Many of my clients love coffee, and that is just fine – as long as they get it from a good quality source and they don’t use flavorings or non-dairy creamers or white sugar, and if they listen to their bodies if coffee doesn’t agree with them.

When I started the food part of my gluten & grain free business last spring, something really caught me off guard.  Some of my products at that time contained dairy – just a little bit of milk or butter.  As much as I had customers who needed gluten free, it seemed that as many (if not more) needed things to be dairy free.  I did some research, and about a month after starting at the farmer’s markets, I changed all of my products to be dairy free (with a few exceptions where I just couldn’t replace the taste or texture). This trend has continued, although I teach my coaching clients that if they will remove all of the grains from their diet, often they can add dairy back in after the gut heals.

I’ve watched as these big brands struggle with gluten free, and there’s been some progress.  Of course, since I’m 100% grain free, I still don’t touch the stuff – nor can I trust the environments in which most things are produced in (due to cross-contamination, which is why I use a dedicated grain and soy free facility).  But, dairy free is a different story.  Dairy free can be accomplished with some tweaks and changes that don’t necessarily require new equipment or buildings.

So when my client approached me and asked if I’d go with her to Starbucks to try out their new coconut milk option, I agreed.  If it helped her have something enjoyable in her latte, I was all for it.  Plus, I thought maybe one of these big brands was finally listening.  A glimmer of hope in my mind said that maybe, just maybe, a brand with this kind of power was going to do something GOOD.

Since I constantly believe that people mean well, I’d like to believe that the execs at Starbucks were doing their best to do what I did – listen to their customers.  I pictured their staff meeting as they sat around the big war-room table and looked at the chart from the head of consumer inquiries, and pictured them shaking their heads in disbelief that they had over 80,000 requests for a nut free, dairy free alternative (their second largest customer request of all time per their website), so they decided they should do something about it.  That part is honorable.

Unfortunately, their execution isn’t.  The power of marketing comes into play yet again.  When I went into Starbucks, I saw this sign at the register:

Starbucks store—> Now, that sounds pretty good, huh!  I don’t know much about Sumatran coconuts, but the name has a nice ring to it.  Sounds tropical maybe, like they are top of the line.  Sort of like they bought their own forest of coconut trees, and were “fair-trade” employing people to pick fresh coconuts, drain the all natural milk, and send glass bottles directly to their stores.  It’s even certified vegan.


I had to put my client on pause.  Although I had taught her to read labels in the grocery store, it’s not as easy in a fast food line; most people (other than me) aren’t willing to hold up a line of latte-thirsty people to ask for a list of ingredients.

A quick Google search answered my questions swiftly.  She didn’t like my answer, and I didn’t like theirs.  Here are the ingredients of Starbuck’s coconut milk (as found on rebootedbody.com)

coconut milk ingredientsINGREDIENTS: water, coconut cream, cane sugar, tricalcium phosphate, coconut water concentrate, natural flavors, sea salt, carrageenan, gellan gum, corn dextrin, xanthan gum, guar gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask?  Here are just a few reasons to consider:

Cane sugar:  Why is it necessary to add sugar?  Don’t you add your own sweetener when you get your coffee?  Would you realize you’re getting a double dose if you were using their coconut milk?

Natural flavors:  There is no way to know what natural flavors actually contains without contacting the company, and they don’t have to disclose it if they don’t want to.  It can mean a host of different things under the FDA guidelines (which, by the way, CAN come from a dairy product).

Carrageenan:  I personally avoid this ingredient because it is known to contribute to further issues with those who experience digestive problems; read this article by Chris Kresser for more information and links to the studies.

Corn Dextrin, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum:  I coach all of my clients to steer clear of corn, corn sugar (dextrose), and corn derivatives for several reasons; partly to avoid GMO’s and any breakdown of the intestinal tract (see this article about corn causing villous atrophy).  Plus, corn is a starch, which the body processes and treats as a sugar.  Triple dose, anyone?

Now, here is my other issue with this.  As you might know, I have a dedicated grain free, soy free company and make my own products.  When I use any ingredient, I do my best to research it and find out the origin or if there’s anything hidden.  I don’t have to do this, but I choose to, because I want my clients to be able to trust my products.

When I made the change to dairy free, I found out quickly that most coconut milk labels that came in boxes looked similar to the one that Starbucks uses.  Knowing I didn’t want all of those additives, after doing a little research (and I’m not a food scientist or anything), I found that canned coconut milk was much purer, like the one pictured below from Thai:

Thai coconut milkBut, even this can be tricky, because the origins of guar gum can be sourced from corn.  From there on, I learned how to make my own coconut milk…using just two ingredients (organic coconut and WATER!)  And guess what?  It’s less expensive, and it tastes BETTER.  Now, I admit that it doesn’t preserve for very long, but it can be frozen, or even made fresh daily, as much as Starbucks would use.

So, let’s give the benefit of the doubt again, and say that operationally it would be difficult for Starbucks to make their own coconut milk.  If that’s the case, then why didn’t they use something like the Thai variety, instead of the multi-ingredient processed mess that they currently use?  

Am I the only one bothered by this?  Would you still use this coconut milk that Starbucks is offering?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

-Jen of the GGF Gourmet



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5 Responses so far.

  1. s hernandez says:

    I was so looking forward to Starbucks coconut milk option, but like you the first thing I did was read the label and left. I also sent them an email. Who wants white coconut flavored chemical juice. Certainly not me. There is another canned coconut milk with no gum, which I am thankful for because I am highly reactive to gums.
    Hopefully enough will complain and they will get real coconut milk.

  2. Steph says:

    Just a quick note in case there is confusion: McDonalds fries DO NOT contain gluten in Canada 🙂
    Oddly, it seems to be just the states where they do because of something in the oil they are fried in (beef tallow/broth type stuff) not due to cross contamination.

    Cross contamination is still a risk in Canada even though they are cooked in a dedicated fryer. But an option for the less sensitive :). (Also for Canadians, the poutines are gluten free too!)

    But for everyones health.. these are probably not the best things to eat haha.

    • GGF Gourmet says:

      That’s incredibly interesting, Steph! I wonder why in something so standard as a McDonald’s, they would use a different set of ingredients/process just because it’s a different country. I’ve had this question regarding things in Europe as well (such as why everyone’s favorite Nutella has soy in the states…)

      Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of garbage in those fries, even without the broth…plus the question as to whether they are GMO potatoes. I can’t say they don’t still sound good to me, though! 🙂

      Thanks for your perspective.

  3. Deb says:

    Thank you. I’ve missed Starbucks lattes since giving up dairy and soy. I’ve enjoyed a few with the coconut milk. I’ve also been using the chocolate almond milk at home in my coffee. I don’t like the idea of the vague ingredient list but love my morning coffee with a little something to color it. Really miss cream texture. Will definitely be searching for a recipe for your coconut-water drink. Need to clean up my diet a little more.

    • GGF Gourmet says:

      Thanks for being a part of the blog, Deb! It can be so hard to avoid all of the vague ingredients, that’s why I make everything from scratch. It is definitely time consuming to do so, but it’s the only way I can stay healthy. Let me know if I can help!

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